Author: Fırat Büyükcoşkun, YOUTHART Media Team, Contents Unit Coordinator, Media Trainer
Intercultural Communication and New Media
With the emergence of new means of communication and transportation, intercultural communication transformed its properties into a new context called new media. Arguably, many scholars asserted that this new form of media have accelerated the globalization process, and through this it would inevitably lead cultural homogenization. Alan Dershowitz famous statement “Internet knows no borders” came to realizing itself. Especially with the social media national borders are overcame by individuals, and distant communication is made possible. Two people from distant countries with distinct cultures are now able to share a habitat of meaning. In this paper intercultural communication is examined through media context. I am arguing that the intercultural communication is now available on individual level as well, furthermore the existence of intercultural communication is most intensely present on individual level. How can this new way of communication can be used for better intercultural communication without disturbing others? How can the minorities use new media to make themselves visible to majorities? In the first section the communication process in the era of internet is examined. Followingly the affects of globalization on intercultural communication is addressed, and in the last section the possible ways to use new media for a better intercultural communication are discussed.
The Communication Process in the Age of Internet
In a communication process, there are more components than only the communicators. Communication process contains and is affected by several factors. Stuart Hall illustrated the communication process in ‘Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse’ (1973) essay as occurred between a sender and a receiver but also how the transmitted and the received message is affected by external factors. The message is encoded and decoded according to personal experiences, socio-economical status, and cultural background which i will be arguing in this section. On the other hand i want to contest the idea of culture as an external factor. Culture and communication are overlapping concepts, when there is communication there also culture occurs and vice versa. Culture as described by Edward Burnett Tylor; “complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” (Tylor, 1871), therefore culture is a communication process and also communication is a cultural process. It occurs in the present, shared time likewise communication. Going back to Hall’s encoding decoding model, while a present culture occurs in the communication, former cultural experiences influence the communication. The produced message is constructed according to senders cultural values, background, and thinking patterns which are shaped by his/her culture, Hall defines this as ‘encoding’, on the other hand the message is interpreted according to same factors by the receiver, and Hall defines it as ‘decoding’.
Every communication is an example of intercultural communication. In electronic media, communication is degraded to the level of ‘interpersonal’. Electronic devices as communication mediums are available to every individual on the planet. Distant spots are now overlapping each other by the speed of new medium. People from different cultural entities are able to meet each other on a cyber space. In other words the components of cyber communication is not different from traditional understanding of communication. According to Chen (2000) cultural components, self expression, ways of thinking heavily influence the behaviours of individuals on electronic media. Written, visual or audial content produced both by individuals and institutions on electronic media are carrying cultural patterns. For instance, the importance of privacy differs throughout different cultures on electronic media. Gupta, Iyer, and Weisskirch (2010) found out that while the Americans are more cautious with their sharing personal information on the internet, Indians are more comfortable with their personal information. Difference between high and low context cultures influences cultural representation on electronic media. American culture is a low context culture, therefore Americans act more individually than Indians. Cultural orientations also affect the choices of users. Users prefer web-sites parallel with their cultural orientations. People with low cultural context are more comfortable with and trust online interaction such as dating websites. According to a research, conducted by Pew Research Center (2013) %66 of online dating application users have gone on a date with the people with whom they met online. This indicates that in low context cultures, people are giving more value to individualistic actions. In high context cultures these numbers decrease evidently.
Globalisation and Intercultural Communication
Electronic media tools have taken our perception of time and space to another dimension with its’ capability of transmitting the information in incredibly fast speeds, and it opened a way even for isolated cultures to become visible to other cultures. People have started to discover similarities with other people from distant countries. The cultural meanings of people have moved to other places with people. Hannerz (1996) sees people as the carriers of cultures, and conceptualizes the idea of interconnectedness and globalisation in his ‘global ecumene’ in which he argues that cultures are no longer bounded. What Hannerz actually meant is that the cultures have started to lose their attachments to a specific territory or land. People are able to discover cultural habitats similar to theirs’ and Hannerz defines this phenomenon as ‘habitats of meaning’ (1996), but in the meantime he avoids using globalisation to describe the results of this transformation in media technologies whereas many scholars preferred to use globalisation, and cultural homogenization to explain the interconnectedness of people, and of communities through electronic media.
The main starting point of ‘globalisation’ argument is that the culture is being imposed on the world from Western societies. After the end of colonisation, Western societies have begun to spread their cultural codes, values, and meanings through electronic media. Cultural imperialism is a focal point to create a basis for globalisation argument. On the contrary, there are lots of cultural meanings travelling from East to West. In communication sense, it is a two way communication in which both sides are sending messages. For instance, India is exporting serious amounts of movies to other countries including USA or many Asian countries are represented by their food in foreign cultures. By all means, this cultural exchange is mostly dominated by Western based meanings, but in any case it is not a one way communication. After the end of the Cold War, the term ‘cultural imperialism’ was replaced by ‘globalisation’. Marwan M. Kraidy explained this shift as:
“Several reasons explain the analytical shift from cultural imperialism to globalization. First, the end of the Cold War as a global framework for ideological, geopolitical, and economic competition calls for a rethinking of the analytical categories and paradigms of thought. By giving rise to the United States as sole superpower and at the same time making the world more fragmented, the end of the Cold War ushered in an era of complexity between global forces of cohesion and local reactions of dispersal. In this complex era, the nation-state is no longer the sale or dominant player, since transnational transactions occur on subnational, national, and supranational levels. Conceptually, globalization appears to capture this complexity better than cultural imperialism. Second, according to John Tomlinson (1991), globalization replaced cultural imperialism because it conveys a process with less coherence and direction, which will weaken the cultural unity of all nation-states, not only those in the developing world. Finally, globalization has emerged as a key perspective across the humanities and social sciences, a current undoubtedly affecting the discipline of communication.” (Kraidy, 2002).
Kraidy also explains this phenomenon with disconnection of culture from a specific nation or a territory. Kraidy’s arguments are partially acceptable that without arguing some key features of this interpretation, it would be an easy, and inadequate way around. As I already mentioned in previous paragraphs, Chen (2000) found out that people’s behaviours are not detached from their cultural values, codes, and patterns. Even though people also influenced by received messages on electronic media, they are more likely to produce their message and interpret the received messaged strongly in relation with their cultural identities. In this sense, cultural homogenization might not be used as a counter argument.
The idea that there is a centre of cultural production and a periphery of cultural consumption was made many scholars that one day there will be ‘one world culture’. Claude Levi-Strauss on the other hand did not believe that the world some day transform into a ‘one culture’ (Lévi-Strauss, 1979). Furthermore, the West was believed to be the central point of this cultural flow, in fact, it was not. Hannerz (2002), referring Ralph Linton’s ‘%100 American’ research, puts forth the objects that an American used in his/her daily routine is in fact are objects coming from or carrying cultural the patterns of Indian, Chinese, German cultures and so forth. Moreover, Hannerz eloborates that the new cultural organisation of the world cannot be analysed or understood with the ‘centre-periphery model’. Following Hannerz’s argument, electronic media created a global sphere that has numerous centres, to put it in a better way, numerous centres and actually no centres. This idea is a prominent basis for understanding the electronic media as a mediator for culture and a tool for intercultural communication.
New Ways for Intercultural Communication
Every single day, many new users from all around the world are going online and signing up for countless virtual social spaces. ‘New media, especially social media such as Facebook, blogs, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, and the iPhone, have enabled people from every corner of the world to represent themselves in a particular way and stay connected in cyberspace’ (Chen, 2012). Even though the behavioural difference between high and low context cultures on electronic media (individualistic and collestivistic), electronic media (prominently social media) lets users to present themselves as individuals and interact as individuals.
To be able to establish an intercultural communication, it was necessary to interact with people in person before the introduction of social media. The strangeness of the outside world apart from one’s own, and the unfamiliarity to different cultural entities resulted as othering and cultural conflict. ‘The importance of being familiar with these ways of framing conflict is that they yield insights into how that person views the situation, it highlights what is important to that person and in many ways supports making explicit what is an implicit part of the person’s world view’ (Fisher-Yoshida, 2005). Gudykunst and Kim (1984) elucidate that the interaction between two people contained predictions and anticipations, and when people interact with someone familiar they are mostly confident with their anticipations, conversely, people are less confident with their anticipations, and more aware of possible reactions coming from the interlocutor. In intercultural communication, being familiar with other cultures facilitates, and accelerates the progress. Electronic media is a mediator to be familiar with differences around the world. As it is discussed in previous sections, it enables a cyberspace in which two distant places can overlap each other. For instance, an exchange student studying abroad can discover the behaviours of local people and get familiar with the host country’s cultural codes and symbols through electronic media tools. ‘When people of two different cultures interact, cultural fluency is the appropriate application of respect, empathy, flexibility, patience, interest, curiosity, openness, the willingness to suspend judgement, tolerance for ambiguity, and sense of humour’ (Inoue, 2007). Electronic media affects people’s familiarity with other cultures and improves cultural fluency as an advantage for intercultural awareness and intercultural communication.
One of the other key advantages that the social media contributes to intercultural communication process is that it gives minority cultures a chance to become visible, confront stereotypical assumptions, raise voice within a dominant majority cultural environment. In mainstream media, the produced content regarding minorities are rare and contains misinterpretations. Representations of minorities in mainstream media is important, because it effects how the dominant culture sees minorities, moreover how minorities see themselves. ‘Even today, ethnic and minority groups are regularly presented as a threat to the security of the “national” population, as they are often mentioned in relation to issues of crime, terrorism, drugs, etc.’ (Blion, 2008). Effective usage of social media can both contribute to adaptation of minorities and immigrants to new culture and their struggle to represent themselves as cultural entities. Furthermore, social media creates a space for immigrants to find familiar connections with their own culture. According to Johnson and Callahan (2013) minorities and immigrants create a supraterritorial cultural space to express themselves and this supraterritorial space allows minorities and immigrants with shared cultural background to connect to each other. This also helps these groups to feel less marginalized in their host country. Being frequently involved in intercultural communication can decrease marginalization and othering of minorities. However, cultural representation on social networks may cause inaccurate representations. People tend to categorize and stereotype what is unfamiliar to them. ‘When people categorise, they tend to assign positive or negative evaluations to these categories. Often, groups with which people identify are evaluated positively and other groups negatively’ (Turner, 1982). Moody (2012) found out that even though the historical stereotypes have long gone in mainstream media, they are resurfaced in social media networks.
One other key factor in intercultural communication is language. Barna (1997) listed six barriers to intercultural communication which includes language as a prominent factor and possible barrier. Far from being able to understand the cultural symbols of a different culture, language creates a wider gap between two people. According to a research that studied behaviours among workers with different cultures and languages ‘almost 60% believed that language was the problem in communicating’ (Jandt and Jandt, 2004). Language also holds cultural features, and identifies certain values of given culture. In electronic media, there are several services which provides language translation to users such as Google Translate. Google Translate supports 90 languages and is able to translate these 90 languages to each other almost instantly. It serves more than 200 million people daily (Shankland, 2013). Users can get interacted with people who speaks a totally different language on social media. However, being able to understand the language does not mean understanding the culture. It is necessary to be familiar with cultural patterns of any specific culture to be able to understand.
#CitizensMedia and Intercultural Communication
Electronic media’s prominent feature of providing its’ users with qualities and opportunities to act as individuals is a key development for intercultural communication. Users can now produce their content and spread it through virtual channels and receive immediate responses from other people regardless of time and space. “Citizens’ media place the focus on the citizens’ groups that support alternative media practices, because first and foremost these media practices are created through citizens’ creative expression and democratic participation.” (Mihal, 2004). The participatory feature of Citizens’ media distinguishes it from the mainstream media. As i discussed in previous sections, minority and immigrant groups are rarely portrayed in mainstream media and when portrayed their image is mostly negative or stereotypical. Electronic media provides each person to actively participate in the flow of information and regardless of the context, it gives a valuable freedom to its’ users to engage with other users and spread their messages.
In the age of Internet, intercultural communication is intensely experienced on individual level. Communication process always contains cultural production, and vice versa. These communicated messages are influenced by cultural backgrounds of senders and decoded according to receivers’ cultural backgrounds. Therefore every communication happens online is some sort of an intercultural communication. Instead of homogenizing cultures, globalization on the contrary pointed out the importance of intercultural communication. New media opened up new possibilities for minority groups to establish a communication channel with majority. Citizens Media is a new tool for every minority, even for every individual to spread their messages and culture via internet. But studies showed that virtual representations of cultures can turn into stereotypes and can create bad impacts on minorities. However, internet is a prospective tool for intercultural communication to develop understanding, and tolerance between different cultural groups.
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